A poet is someone
Who can pour Light into a spoon,
Then raise it
Your beautiful parched, holy mouth.
Over time, I’ve encountered many gifts that the study of poetry can offer to my capacities in leadership; of these, three stand out: concentration, inspiration, and play. (more…)Read more
A big ah-ha from the field: Successful self-management depends on this.
Many teams and organizations, especially in the last few years since the rise of Holacracy and the popularity of Reinventing Organizations, are transitioning to self-management—or at least sniffing around the possibility. (more…)Read more
I needed a breakthrough. Two important group facilitation events loomed in my near future. While I felt excited about them, I also felt terrified. As a lifelong writer who is more comfortable in the writing cave and in one-to-one mentoring situations, the very thought of guiding a group of writers gave me a chill. This was something I had veered away from religiously. But now, doors were opening and I felt called to step across the threshold. I could no longer say no. (more…)Read more
One of the most important things a facilitator needs to practice is facing the fear of criticism that comes from standing in front of a group.
Every time you step in front of a group, whether you are a beautiful and seriously talented pop star like Beyonce or a quick, clever media personality like Jon Stewart, a politician or an athlete or a car salesman, there is a certain amount of criticism coming back at you, even when people are your fans.
Usually it is not spoken, sometimes it is, but the criticism is alway present in the field on a subtle level, which means we feel it and often unconsciously defend against it. The people in the room are sorting through their experience: do they trust you, do they approve of what you are doing, do they want to go where you are taking them?
A good performance will transmute the criticism in the moment into a beautiful and coherent energetic field, but the next day in the papers and in retrospect, the criticism might come back.Read more
Recently I have been facilitating a group of 22 leaders that is about to begin a major transformative process.
A newly configured team, they are coming together via a recent integration of three different organizations to collaborate on an organizational renewal strategy to move into the next era.
When we first met, what immediately struck me was the complexity of the group. The breadth and level of detail in their discourse just simply boggled my mind.
Ask them whether the new organization was a department, division, or a business unit, and you’ll hear 22 different ideas. Ask them why they are coming together, or where they are going and you’ll hear 22 different ideas.
Many individuals in this group also have strong and diverging opinions about what this new team should focus on and they are more than happy to present the facts to back up their case. And as many as that held reservations about proceeding and were clearly not yet fully “in”—and they all feel they’re responsible for an almost endless set of plans, commitments and priorities.
In short, it’s a recipe for mind-numbing incoherence and immobility.
Which is more or less what started to happen… (more…)Read more
In 2007 Accenture surveyed over 900 top executives in some of the world’s largest companies across North America and throughout Europe, China, and Japan about the need for more advanced management capabilities. Of those surveyed, nearly 50% of leaders said that their organization was not well suited to producing executives with the capability to manage and lead in the face of rapid change.
It’s clear that today’s professional environments demand greater sophistication of knowledge work; broader global perspectives, infrastructures, and multi-national systems; as well as leaders who are able to self-initiate, self-direct and self-manage. Yet at the same time, high performing leaders continue to be in short supply.
Whether we peer into big business, government, mature non-profits, mid-size companies or startups, the findings are similar: strong leadership is needed and the demand for it vastly outpaces our ability to ready the next generation of leaders to thrive in today’s business climates.
One of the few strategies that can help us to develop greater leadership aptitudes is the use of developmentally crafted curriculum, exercises and assessments. However (and unfortunately) most leaders in organizations are unaware of this body of research, and they aren’t using it to drive leader development in their organizations.Read more
“When you can relate to the present moment, make choices and distinctions, and bring those into the collective—that is where the facilitative and the leadership role really meet. When that happens, you’re able to help a group have the capacity to relate to presence and be available to what is emerging. That’s the interface that we’re interested in. That’s where we start to see performance outcomes in organizations, things that are meaningful—greater cohesion, higher performance, more productivity, bigger breakthroughs, and capacity to collaborate across sectors. That’s when we gain greater capacity to work in a multi-stakeholder way with our most difficult-to-solve problems.” – Rebecca Colwell, CEO, Ten Directions
In the midst of a conversation, a meeting, a conflict—what are you available to?
Your team, or the people you’re meeting with right now—how available is this group? And to what?
In your group or organization’s normal habits of functioning, what kind of information and insight is readily available? And what is (kept) out of reach?
Often when we think about the goals and aspirations we have for ourselves and our organizations, we’re likely to think of things like “agility”, “innovation” and “responsiveness.” Sexy goals. Aspirations that embody power, swiftness, capability.
And a lot of people spend a lot of time making assertions about what generates desirable qualities like agility, innovation and responsiveness. Undoubtedly, there are many (some more lasting than others) paths up the mountain.
We value those qualities, too, because when they are present, they usually generate engaged participation and increased well-being—both of which we want to foster more of in the world.
But when we get curious about these desirable qualities, we approach them from a reverse-engineering perspective.
What leads to innovation, creativity, agility, and responsiveness?Read more
“The opposite of Love is not Hate; it’s indifference.” – Elie Wiesel
Last month, I wrote about The Awakened Takeover. Which is another way of saying I *dared* to articulate my deep intention and publish it for the world to see. And now…it has me by it’s teeth.
In it, I included this call to action:
Care more, open yourself to more perspectives, and you can’t help but become more engaged and optimistic.
Yet looking back on my own path, not caring enough was never the problem.
In fact, there was a time when it felt like it WAS the problem.
Being able to take more perspectives, we get inundated with more information and our circle of care expands. The world pulls on us in new, more diverse ways. We don’t just see need everywhere, we feel it. Our care pulls into new and different relationships with the world—and that gives rise to a very distinct kind of challenge.
This is the challenge of how we cope with how much we care.
It’s true for me. I can recall a stage in my life when I became so overwhelmed by the stresses of public affairs and world issues that I stopped watching the news and reading papers. I would run the other way when water cooler conversations turned to current events. My only recourse in response to the overwhelm (read: care) was to unplug and disengage.
My struggle wasn’t that I didn’t care enough.Read more
One of the perennial challenges facing leaders is competing cultures, because competing cultures inevitably fuel conflicting value systems.
Competing value systems are critical for leaders to pay attention to because these are “hot spots” where conflicts often swiftly obscure creative and collaborative opportunities. Where people could collaborate, they now fight. Where there might have been agreement, we find resentment. Coherence is traded in for conflict. When this happens we demonstrate our shortcomings. Larger possibilities are forfeited for all-too-common expressions of our weaknesses as a species. We feel threatened by cultures not familiar to us. Differences bring out hostility. We become destructive instead of constructive.
The issue for many leaders today is that when faced with these consequences, it often appears like the best approach is to retreat from difference, diversity and tension.Read more
One of the most basic constructions of identity is to locate your sense of self in opposition to one side of a polarity. An example in its most basic form: you like being warm and you hate being cold. You are attracted to this, and you are opposed to that.
This may seem to be a trivial stance, however it is anything but trivial.
A polarized way of organizing or structuring yourself is a persistent challenge that stunts leadership effectiveness, limits behavioral flexibility, and chops the amount of freedom you have in half. (And unfortunately for us, none of these limitations are the biggest problem.)
The biggest problem is that these polar constructions of identity (as I call them) happen without you even knowing about it.Read more
Last night I learned something I didn’t expect to learn about leadership from watching The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
This lesson comes from an old adage: “Never bring home an injured baby Tyrannosaurus Rex.”
First, replay this gripping scene in your mind’s eye:
It was a dark and stormy night. Scientist Julianne Moore warned activist Vince Vaughn, injured T-Rex in his arms, saying that taking the injured dinosaur to their trailer laboratory was “going to be really, really bad.” Even if you don’t remember this scene, you’ve already guessed (1) he didn’t listen, and (2) it was really, really bad. (Raging Ma and Pa Rex pushed the lab over the 500 foot cliff into the churning sea below. And, worse yet, I don’t think Vince Vaughn ever apologized.)
What’s this got to do with leadership and collaboration, you ask?Read more
Like most kids, when I was a little girl I eagerly anticipated the transition from school to the freedom of summer. But the real highlight for me was the opportunity to travel up the hill to the public library (much more mysterious and shadowy than our protestant elementary school library) once a week to select new reading material. I climbed the hill, pulling my red wagon behind me; I was allowed to borrow only as many books as filled my wagon, providing I returned them all by week’s end.
I’ll be the first to admit that I was a little greedy.
I became adept at making spatially savvy selections. I strategically selected non-slip covers and optimized book size and packing techniques so that I could maximize my ‘haul’.
Oh, how I loved pouring through those treasures…and the anticipation of what might be in the next wagon.
Fast forward to today, and my tables are stacked with books. Long lists of bookmarked sites. A contact list full of people with ideas, expertise, connections. RSS feeds, Twitter, Stumbleupon, MashUp, Pinterest etc. An almost insatiable interest in what is new, what is relevant, what is trending, and what is necessary and important for me to know—for me to be adequate to the task, to be relevant and on trend.Read more
The biggest problems facing leaders today will also be some of the most perplexing challenges our future generations will confront. Why? It’s simple: we have built-in challenges. Just as human beings are hardwired to handle certain problems with ease, there are shortcomings in our design. While in many ways we are walking and talking miracles of complexity, we have also been built with gaps. These gaps are where we struggle in our own personal and professional lives, as well as from one generation to the next.
So, while you have been built to learn and change in important ways, there are also limits to your adaptability. Now if you’re like many people you may be assuming that adults all share the same limitations. In some ways this is correct. For example, our eyes can’t see infrared light without the help of technology. Yet, adults also have different measures of adaptive capability. Some of us are more adaptive, responsive and capable than others. The fields of leadership development, cognitive development, identity development and many others study these changes in adaptability.Read more
Last week, our Integral Facilitator faculty member Rob McNamara shared a provocative perspective on preparation and planning on his blog.
“The most dangerous tool you currently have is the plan you are already holding in your hands. Why? Because the plan makes assumptions that you likely do not question every day. Every day you should be getting out of your plans such that you can adaptively respond to life in creative and innovative ways. Gain more altitude. Get more perspective.”Read more
As an experienced leadership developer, I thought myself quite the expert at developing capacity in groups and helping leaders master new competencies, and over decades of work, I felt I’d learned the most effective ways to do that.
The learning culture I had long subscribed to is characterized by its emphasis on valuable information and knowledge combined with engaging, self-directed approaches to learning. My approach as a trainer and facilitator used tried and true rituals and forms to facilitate learning—chatty peer-to-peer activity, self-directed learning, information gathering and opportunities to create conceptual maps and theories, experiential learning, small groups that exchange ideas and test out concepts.
In many ways, my approach as a workshop trainer was to point to new information or knowledge, and devise creative ways for the information to be absorbed and digested. And back then, I would have asserted that this experience I was offering was “transformative” for my clients.
Yet my first personal experience of truly transformative learning took place in a setting that surprised me—at a live intensive with an Integral Zen teacher—which didn’t at all match the existing expectations I had about how learning “should” take place.
When I first entered the room where the workshop “teacher” sat at the front of the room, facing chairs arranged in rows, it felt really weird. In fact, it felt wrong to me—ineffective, and even inappropriate.
Because I favored the view that really effective learning is something that’s not done by someone sitting at the front of a classroom, I was quickly caught in a tumbling list of judgements and assessments about where I was and what was going to happen.
You may have noticed this happening to you in a workshop or training. Your seeking mind impatiently wants to hear about “the top three characteristics of XYZ”; or you notice your judging mind becoming annoyed because “I get this already” or “I don’t like the way this is presented.”
Of course, discernment is good and useful. However, it also orients us by fixing us to our opinions. With fixed opinions, we become less open and available to information, novelty, creativity, and less able to respond fluidly to complexity.
What surprised me was that the experience challenged my notions of ideal learning environments and engaged an entirely new dimension of me in the learning process.
My experience working with an Integral Zen teacher invited me to go much deeper than I would normally (in a typical workshop setting) for several reasons. Obviously perhaps, it actively engaged me in introspection and reflection. I instantly felt a quieting down in my body—a settling, grounded feeling as my breath slowed and my awareness ceased jumping from thought to thought.
Because the teacher offers teaching injunctions that are often just a simple phrase or question (a “pointing out” instruction), my attention is drawn to an inner dimension, in contrast to the hyperactivity of my analytical mind. Through the process, the teacher is adept at helping me to see my own inner dialogue and the fixations of my mind. Gradually, with practice and attention, I can begin to release them. As a result, my awareness becomes freer.
As an “experienced” professional facilitator, this changes the way I relate to my self, others, and the environment around me. My identification with being an expert—the authoritative figure at the front of the room—loosens. My need to have the chairs set up in a particular configuration lightens. The persistent struggle of my ego to defend me against something, someone, some facet of my experience is a struggle I can see anew, and therefore relate to. As a result, the degree of choice and the freedom I have access to expands dramatically.
Sure, it’s true—there is always a lot to do when facilitating or engaging groups. We manage time, agenda, listen for agreements. Our minds are constantly engaged, it seems, in what is happening out there. Yet what I have learned, and continue to learn, is how much is going on in here—and how vital it is for me to be able to access and use this inner awareness.
From the inside, when my presence is centered and stable, I can use my self-awareness as a resource. I am able to notice reactions, contractions and pick up on subtleties I would have missed, much more quickly. Over time, I can relax into an attitude of not-knowing, which frees up more capacity for me to be open and respond to what is arising in the moment. I can include more of myself in my facilitation, and can more masterfully give people the experience of having their contributions included and understood. I am more fluid, agile, responsive, and authentic.
When we learn how to relax the grasping and judging our minds so often engage in, we can be more fully present to our entire experience, which means we can embody inquiry, rather than having to identify with what we know and the answers we already have.
Cultivating the capacities of grounded presence and perspective taking are essential for those who wish to work moment-by-moment with the complexity and diversity inherent in group dynamics and organizations. Utilizing these capacities, a masterful Integral Facilitator® orients to the true nature of the group process, its being and becoming, and its context and environment. In my experience, Zen awareness is the domain that offers me greater access to my own depth, which is precisely the doorway to accessing more depth in service of the group.
The challenge we face as leaders and facilitators is not about merely more—more expertise, more knowledge, more skills. If we are really on the edge of our game, at the front line of our own development, then our challenge is to find opportunities where we can receive and accept the gift of being seen, choose to participate in our own growth, and open up to being an instrument for the emergence of what will most serve all of us.
Our work life today depends on our ability to effortlessly collaborate with others while executing our goals with precision and ease.
And every one of us—regardless of whether we are a leader, manager, coach, or consultant—needs to develop the awareness and skills of a facilitator in order to influence the successful outcomes of our endeavors.
As our understanding of the complexity of organizational life and human relationships evolves, many of us realize that we can no longer depend on hierarchical structures to lead the way, nor do we have the time to spend in lagging consensus or feel-good processes.
In order to help teams and groups achieve their objectives, we need to be able to rapidly assess and understand context, develop agile and effective plans, and have the skills to help a group respond dynamically throughout the process.
We need effective tools—yes—but even more, we need the presence and skill to recognize and respond to the emotion, conflict and obstacles that naturally arise in our engagements.
In order to work optimally within complex, fast paced environments, today’s innovative professionals need to be as adept on the inside as they are on the outside.
And in developing ourselves as facilitative leaders, the challenge is not to add more tips and tricks to our repertoire. Rather, it is to deepen our presence and ability to respond wisely and effectively to what is arising in the moment.
An Integral approach is a profoundly useful framework for illuminating the patterns within the complexity we are dealing with.
By addressing the deeper dimensions of group dynamics and the myriad subtleties of human interaction, an Integral approach supports us (no matter what our role) to become more effective, light on our feet, and creative in our responses to group challenges.
With practice, Integral Facilitators cultivate the capacity for presence in spite of what is going on—whether it’s anxiety, boredom in the room, or a leadership struggle.
They can flex and flow fluidly, are more creative and open, more comfortable with difference, and have less anxiety and fear.
As a result, our teams, projects and collaborations unfold with flexibility, precision and ease. Agreements get made, people follow through on their commitments, and emotion, humor and conflict can be navigated with ease.
Please join us for our upcoming Next Stage Facilitation, and the prerequisite for the six-month Certificate Program:
More information, resources and training is available at www.tendirections.com/programs/